Superman: Up in the Sky #4 Review – What is a man?
Superman: Up in the Sky #4 Review
Written by: Tom King
Art by: Andy Kubert
Inks by: Sandra Hope
Colors by: Brad Anderson
Published by: DC Comics
Much like the previous issues, we have two different little vignettes, tied together by the through-line of “Superman has to save a little girl who’s lost in space”. This time, we have a retelling of the famous charity race between Superman and the Flash from the perspective of someone watching it and a story that could best be described as Superman vs. Clark Kent. Let’s get into that, shall we?
Throughout my reviews of this mini, I’ve been praising Tom King left and right, in no small part because he’s been very good at avoiding the traps that plague some of his worst stuff. This isn’t impossibly depressing and grim like Heroes in Crisis or as cold and detached as his Batman. However, the first story from this book started ringing some alarm bells for me, when I saw its format, which is entirely composed of one-page splashes with some text in captions.
King has used this before and IT. WAS. TERRIBLE. The most egregious example I remember was Batman #50, where the action was “punctuated” by what were essentially nice looking (at times) pinups with captions. I remember actively feeling my time being wasted while reading it.
This time it’s slightly better because at least the images are connected with what’s going on and there’s a reason that arguably justifies the choice, but even still it’s a very clunky way to tell a story and kind of cuts away the inherent strengths of the comic book format. The panel to panel flow of a comic book can create a feeling of movement in the reader that might even make them feel as if they’re watching a show, thus pulling them further inside the story. By taking it away and just having big, flashy images with captions, you’ve essentially made a picture book which is something entirely separate.
This is somewhat salvaged by the actual content of that section being pretty good and quite touching, sort of a look at Superman’s mentality and basically a big showcase of how just gosh darn wonderful he is. Plus, the damage this format could’ve done on the book is salved over by the very next story.
A lot of writers seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the dichotomy between Superman and Clark Kent. Specifically, the idea that Superman is an alien that can’t possibly relate to humans and Clark Kent is his “attempt” to fit in. This concept was developed entirely for the purpose of darkening up Superman, which has led to “wonderful” stories like “Superman For Tomorrow”, the whole of New 52 Superman and, of course, that pile of trash that I technically have to call a movie, “Man of Steel”.
This section of “Superman: Up in the Sky”, entitled “Man and Superman” shows what would happen if you actually were to separate Superman and Clark Kent. On one hand, you have the alien. Super powerful, just and completely calculating. How much is a life worth when compared to another? Or when compared to an entire planet? When I am a being of limitless strength and ultimate intelligence, why am I wasting my time with one little girl?
On the other hand, there’s the human. Caring, hopeful, compassionate to a fault and totally powerless. He can barely survive a snowstorm, much less leap a tall building in a single bound, and yet he is going to save that little girl, come hell or high water. The alien Superman can tell him that it’s totally illogical, that it’s ridiculous, that he can’t get off that planet much less traverse the universe in search of one girl. Clark’s answer is still the same: “So?”
In my experience as a consumer of fiction, there have been very few times that a writer has baffled me by going completely against what I expect from them. Tom King has written some comics that I’ve really loved, but whenever it came to writing straight superheroes, the man just couldn’t hack it. Heroes in Crisis was repulsively bad and Batman is mostly just dull filler peppered in with a complete misunderstanding of the character. So, if you told me that this man would somehow write a more human Superman than what could be managed by a famous screenwriter and a million-dollar studio, I would’ve told you that you were goddamn deranged. Seems I have to change my tune.
In case it wasn’t obvious, despite the fact the first half was just okay, this second part made me feel almost vindicated as a Superman fan. The point isn’t that “Superman needs both parts of himself”, but more that “Superman without Clark Kent is basically just the powers”… It’s such a simple assessment and so easy to comprehend, but it’s so perfectly done here. I don’t know how King’s done it, I don’t know why he gets Superman’s character so perfectly, but screws it up on Batman, but I honestly don’t even freaking care at this point. Also, that final page is just perfection, it may actually be one of my favorite moments in comics.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll have to keep saying it: Andy Kubert’s art is excellent and totally fits the book. Powerful, impact-oriented, energetic and can work expressions quite well when need be.
I’m running out of things to say about Kubert beyond “When’s working with the right colorist and has enough time, he’s really great.”
Considering I’ve written almost a thousand words gushing about this issue, you can take an educated guess at what my final thoughts are. Tom King makes his thesis on why Superman works and he’s absolutely correct, coupled together with Andy Kubert’s amazing pencils, this makes for one hell of an issue. The only reason it gets deducted a little is due to the race section being entirely one-page splashes. That sucks.
Superman: Up in the Sky #4 Review
Superman Up in the Sky #4 Review
Considering I’ve written almost a thousand words gushing about this issue, you can take an educated guess at what my final thoughts are. Tom King makes his thesis on why Superman works and he’s absolutely correct, coupled together with Andy Kubert’s amazing pencils, this makes for one hell of an issue.